Unlocking Hope: Exploring Kidney Donor Vouchers and Innovative Strategies for Finding a Donor

By Karol Franks

I would like to share an amazing program called the donor voucher program. Are you familiar with it? This paired exchange program offers an innovative way to encourage living kidney donations and save lives. The program is associated with the National Kidney Registry, and most transplant centers offer this option to potential living donors. This program differs from a typical swap or paired exchange transplant program.

The donor voucher program is a unique initiative which allows individuals to donate a kidney in advance. The donor gives the voucher to a person who is in immediate need of a kidney who can then choose to use the voucher for themselves, or if they receive a deceased kidney instead, can pass it on to a loved one in need for future use.

Another type of voucher allows a prospective donor to receive a voucher for a family member who may need a kidney in the future. This is particularly beneficial in cases where a parent wants to donate to their child who may need a transplant in the future, but the parent wants to donate now to make sure the child has a backup.

Unfortunately, transplants are only a form of treatment, and many long-term kidney survivors require more than one kidney transplant.

The idea for vouchers came about back in 2014, when retired judge Howard Broadman asked UCLA’s Kidney Transplant Program a unique question: If he donated a kidney to a stranger, could his 4-year-old grandson, who had kidney disease, get priority for a transplant in the future? Broadman’s grandson’s kidney disease was expected to lead to kidney failure in 10 to 15 years, requiring a transplant. By that time, Broadman would be about 80 years old, too old to qualify as a donor. Broadman’s December 2014 donation initiated a chain with three recipients.

There are two significant advantages to the voucher program. First, the donor can schedule the surgery at a time which is convenient. Secondly, the recipient who they donate on behalf of receives priority in the kidney donor pool, increasing the chances of finding a suitable match more quickly.

Here is one scenario. Let’s say I am interested in donating my kidney to help someone but I do not know anyone in immediate need of a kidney. Instead of donating directly to a specific individual, I can donate through a designated transplant center. In return, they will issue a voucher which can be transferred to someone else in need, whether it be a family member, friend, or even an anonymous recipient.

In another scenario, let’s consider a person who initially intended to donate a kidney to a friend or family member. However, due to a change in the intended recipient’s medical condition, the recipient became ineligible to receive the kidney. However, the donor still wants to donate to another person in need. The donor can start a chain of life-saving donations.

I remember reading a story which illustrates this situation. A person was unable to donate a kidney to their own mother due to changes in the mother’s transplant eligibility. Instead, the donor chose to honor their mother by participating in the voucher program and donating their kidney to someone who needed it sooner.

You may wonder why someone would donate a kidney without knowing the recipient. The brilliance of this program lies in its cascading impact. By making an upfront kidney donation, it can initiate a series of kidney transplants for those in need.

Vouchers are an incredible concept which can change someone’s life. Thanks to living donors and the voucher program, two of my family members have received kidney transplants.

The voucher program requires a living donor who is willing to donate a kidney. The most effective way to find one is to ask family and friends, since they are often more willing to help. However, other methods exist for finding a living kidney donor. Strategies which people have used, such as sharing their stories on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, have increased the chances of successfully finding a living donor. Some have even utilized billboards, yard signs, and writing on car windows to attract attention and find potential kidney donors. These approaches have proven effective in reaching a wider audience and have gained significant media attention.

For more info about the voucher program The National Kidney Registry  

Click here for ideas to campaign for a living donor 


Karol Franks is a passionate advocate for people with kidney disease and living donors. Three of her family members have had kidney transplants. Karol is an administrator for Living Donors Online, and an administrator for the “I Hate Dialysis” Facebook group. Karol is a long-time volunteer at RSN’s Renal Teen Prom and other programs. She and her husband reside in Southern California.


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